Women in Art

Tamara de Lempicka

Lempicka is best known for her Art Deco-styled portraits. Sexy, bedroom-eyed women in stylish dress are rendered in haunting poses. Perhaps it was her own dramatic life mirrored in her art. Married twice to wealthy, she moved from her native Poland to Russia, and then to Paris. In 1918, she studied painting at the Academe de la Grand Chaumiere, and was privately tutored by Maurice Denis. In 1925 she exhibited her works at the first Art Deco show in Paris. She moved to America in 1939 with her second husband, Baron Raoul Kuffner. Her works appeared exclusively at many galleries and museums, but her artistic output decreased. In 1960 she changed her style to abstract art and began creating works with a spatula. After her husband died in 1962 she ceased painting and moved to Mexico.

An excerpt from Lempicka by Gilles Neret:
Tamara received her first painting lessons from Maurice Denis at the Academe Ranson. Maurice Denis was the painter who caused such a stir in his day with a statement that both impressed itself on his pupils and brought him lasting celebrity: It must be remembered that a painting is essentially not so much a war-horse, a naked woman or some story or other, as a plain surface covered with paint in a particular arrangement.

In spite of this "modem" position, Maurice Denis remained a purely decorative painter his whole life long; his style was archaic, post-symbolist, even when he was trying to "renew" his subject, something he believed he was doing, for example, by substituting, in his painting Les Muses, visibly bourgeois figures, strolling in the Bois de Boulogne, for the deities of ancient Greece customary in the genre until then. At this period even someone like Eugene Pougheon would not shrink from placing "Venuses" and "Pegasuses" in the surroundings of the Jockey Club, while his rival Emile Aubry managed to seat a rococo Liberty vamp astride the back of a centaur. Even so, Maurice Denis was a hard taskmaster and a methodical teacher; the patient apprenticeship which Tamara absolved under his eye enabled her later to create immaculately structured pictures.

Her definitive stamp, however, Tamara received from the instruction she went on to receive from Andre Lhote: painter, decorator, critic, art-teacher, theoretician - activities which he himself found difficulty in reconciling, and which often enough prevented him from realizing the subtle syntheses of his inspiration. Andre Lhote was the inventor of a revised and corrected cubism, a "safe" cubism using "bourgeois" colours, a so-called synthetic cubism which Tamara took up immediately. In other words, it was a question of reconciling the iconography of the Salons (or, shall we say, of the academicians and other hacks) with avant-garde cubist experiments of Braque, Juan Gris, or Picasso. In short, to place a variety of cubism (one had to move with the times, after all) at the service of the bourgeoisie, albeit an attenuated cubism, acceptable on the walls of a respectable household, and unlikely to frighten away the visitors. On the one hand, Lhote was of the opinion that what the impressionists had built up on pure colour must now be transferred to the level of form-n. On the other hand, the only thing that interested him about cubism was its rational, constructive aspect, which, in his opinion, allowed the phenomena of the natural world to be preserved in a painting, and the forms of objects to be left intact, a human body, for example, being an object like any other. This was what he called the "plastic metaphor", a metaphor which Tamara used time and again in her artistic output: in her harems populated by provocative idiots; in her nudes, which are also allegories of lasciviousness; or in her portraits characterized by the haughty expression typical of a certain caste. Of course the negative side of this procedure is that cases left with nothing more than the most superficial aspects of cubism as originally conceived. There is a penalty to be paid when one reduces the figures to the lowest common colour denominator just in order to satisfy the requirements of plasticity. This is to confuse academism with simplification of the picture. One could say that Andr6 Lhote confused cubism with geometrism without realizing that cubism implies a total questioning of the pictorial system created by the Renaissance.

Image List

Dr. Boucard

Portrait of Marjorie Ferry

Portrait of Ira P.

Portrait of the Duchess de La Salle

The Musician

Portrait of Man in Overcoat


Self Portrait, 1925

Women in Yellow

Portrait of Prince Eristoff

Two Girls

Lady in Blue

Girl with Guitar

Key and Hand

Lady with Green Glove

Mother Superior

Portrait of Suzy Solidor

Reclining Nude

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